Re: [asa] Re: Scientific stupidities part 2

From: Glenn Morton <>
Date: Thu Mar 26 2009 - 22:32:03 EDT

Part 5
 Having opened Tipler's article tonight, I found a wonderful point about
 the stupidity of peer review.

 (all in the spirit of Mao's letting a hundred flowers bloom.

> Frank Tipler, "Refereed Journals," in William Dembski editor, Uncommon
> Dissent, (Wilmington Delaware: ISI Books, 2004), p. 117,118
> "Einstein's experience is illustrative. He published three super
> breakthrough papers in 1905. One presented to the world his theory of
> (special) relativity. A second paper showed that light had to consist of
> particles that we now call photons; using this fact, he explained the
> emission of electrons from metals when illuminated by light. Einstein was
> awarded the Nobel Prize for this explanation. The third paper explained
> the vibration of dust particles in air by attributing the motion to
> molecules of air hitting the dust particles. Einstein's explanation of
> this "Brownian motion" allowed properties of the molecules to be
> calculated, and it was Einstein's explanation that finally convinced
> physicists that atoms actually existed. Not bad for one year! Einstein
> wrote these papers in his spare time, after he returned home from his
> paying job as a patent clerk in Bern, Switzerland.
> "All three papers were published in Annalen der Physik, one of the major
> physics journals in Germany. But none of the papers was sent to referees.
> Instead the editors--either the editor in chief, Max Planck, or the editor
> for theoretical physics, Wilhelm Wien made the decision to publish. It is
> unlikely that whoever made the decision spent much time on whether to
> publish. Almost every paper submitted was published. So few people wanted
> to publish in any physics journal that editors rarely rejected submitted
> papers."
> "And if Annalen der Physick rejected a paper, for whatever reason, any
> professional German physicist had an alternative: Zeitschrift fur Physic.k
> This journal would publish any paper submitted by any member of the German
> Physical Society. It published quite a few worthless papers, but it also
> published quite a few great papers, among them Heisenberg's first paper on
> the Uncertainty Principle, a central idea in quantum mechanics. There was
> no way in which referees or editors could stop an idea from appearing
> inthe professional journals. In illustration of this, the great Danish
> physicist Niels Bohr said, according to Abraham Pais, that if a physicist
> has an idea that seems crazy and he hesitates to publish so that someone
> else publishes the idea first and gets the credit, he has no one to blame
> but himself. In other words, it never occurred to Bohr that referees or
> editors could stop the publication of a new idea.
> © source where applicable

 In some sense, acts in the same manner. I would point out that
 Murray Gell-Mann's Eight-fold Way paper, which outlined the standard model
 was never published anywhere but it is one of the most important articles
 in modern physics. Yet, everyone knows, that one should pass peer review.

 addon 16

 Another case of how science as currently structured is biased against

> Frank Tipler, "Refereed Journals," in William Dembski editor, Uncommon
> Dissent, (Wilmington Delaware: ISI Books, 2004), p. 118
> "One example is Rosalyn Yalow, who described how her Nobel-prize-winning
> paper was received by the journals as follow: 'In 1955 we submitted the
> paper to Science...the paper was held there for eight months before it was
> reviewed. It was finally rejected. We sumbitted it to the Journal of
> Clinical Investigations, which also rejected it.' Another example is
> Gunter Blobel, who in a news conference given just after he was awarded
> the Nobel Prize in Medicine, said that the main problem one encounters in
> one's research is 'when your grants and papers are rejected because some
> stupid reviewer rejected them for dogmatic adherence to old ideas."
> According to the New York Times, these comments 'drew thunderous applause
> from the hundreds of sympathetic colleagues and younger scientists in the
> auditorium."
> © source where applicable

 addon 17

 I thought I would cite Frank Tipler's case with being a maverick.

> Frank Tipler, "Refereed Journals," in William Dembski editor, Uncommon
> Dissent, (Wilmington Delaware: ISI Books, 2004), p.122-123
> "If the total amount of the grant is $1,000,000, and the overhead is fifty
> percent, the scientist who secures the grant has $500,000 to do his
> research. The other $500,000 goes to the university bottom line. A
> university is strongly motivated to hire only those scientists who can
> obtain large grants. Pushing an idea that is contrary to current opinion
> is not a good way to obtain large grants.
> "I have experienced this form of discrimination first hand. When I came up
> for tenure at Tulane in 1983, I was already controversial. At the time I
> had proposed that general relativity might allow time travel, and I had
> published a series of papers claiming that we might be the only
> intelligent life form in the visible universe. At the time, these claims
> were far outside the mainstream. (They are standard claims now. Kip Thorne
> of Cal Tech has argued for the possibility of time travel, using the same
> mechanism I originally proposed. The scientific community is now largely
> skeptical of extraterrestrial intelligence, if for no other reason than
> the failure of the SETI radio searches.) My views made it very difficult
> to an NSF grant. One reviewer of one of my grant proposals wrote that it
> would be inadvisable to award me a grant because I might spend some of the
> time working on my 'crazy' ideas on ETI. I didn't get the grant."
> "It began to look as if I wouldn't get tenure. I had a large number of
> papers published in refereed journals--including Physical Review Letters
> and Nature--but no government grants. For this reason, and for this reason
> alone (I was told later), the initial vote of the Tulane Physics
> Department was to deny me tenure. But I had another grant proposal under
> consideration by the NSF. I called Rich Isaacson, the head of the
> Gravitation Division of the NSF, and told him about my situation. Rich
> called me a few weeks later, and told me that the referee reports for my
> proposal were 'all over the ma;'--some reviewers said I was the most
> original relativity physicist since Einstein, and others said I was an
> incompetent crackpot. Rich said that in such a circumstance, he could act
> as he saw fit. He saw fit to fund my proposal. I had grant support! I also
> had tenure; the physics department reversed its negative vote."
> © source where applicable

 Money talks. No one should mistake tenure as necessarily a sign of
 competence other than competence at getting grant money. Truth has little
 to do with the scientific endeavor anymore--I have been involved in giving
 lots of grant moneys to university for various studies and
 consortia--millions in fact. And I know that the profs always appreciate
 it. But I know that I can also probably get them to come to almost any conclusion given the right monetary encouragement.

Today, a friend was telling me that a geologist prof who was his advisor notes that the danger posed by the New Madrid Fault zone depends upon the distance the researcher is from the New Madrid Fault. If you are a researcher living near it, the probability of a slip is quite high and if you live a long way away, the probability is quite low. I asked my friend why? He noted that if you live near it and need research grant money, you better scare the bejeebers out of the funding agencies. But, if you live a long way away, and it is inconvenient for you to study that fault and you want to do other research, you need to publish papers pooh-poohing the New Madrid so that you can get the money to research your favorite earthquake danger.

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Received on Thu Mar 26 22:31:36 2009

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